KASHIWA, CHIBA PREF. – Brazilian striker Leandro scored a 116th-minute winner to send Kashiwa Reysol into the Asian Champions League group stage after shaking off Thai Premier League side Chonburi FC 3-2 in extra time on Tuesday night.
Reysol qualified for the ACL playoff at Hitachi Stadium by virtue of their fourth-place finish in the J. League last season, and took an eighth-minute lead over the visitors through Kosuke Takatomi in bitterly cold conditions.
Chonburi hit back two minutes later with an equalizer from Brazilian Leandro Assumpcao, before Leandro restored Reysol’s lead from the penalty spot in the 57th minute.
The Thai Premier League runnersup again drew level eight minutes later through Kroekrit Thawikan, and the match looked to be heading to penalties as Chonburi withstood wave after wave of Kashiwa pressure in extra time.
But Leandro broke the deadlock with four minutes remaining to send Reysol into the group stage of the continental club competition, where they will face South Korea’s Jeonbuk Motors, China’s Shandong Luneng and Vietnamese outfit Binh Duong.
“We’ve been working toward this game ever since we claimed the final ACL slot in the J. League last year,” said Leandro. “It was a difficult match but we have to look toward the next game now.”
“It was our first official game of the season, and we will improve as we get more and more into our stride.”
Reysol were playing their first competitive game under new manager Tatsuma Yoshida, who took over from talismanic Brazilian Nelsinho at the end of last season.
“More than feeling happy I feel relieved,” said Yoshida. “This was our first game, and to win gives us a stability that will mean something going forward.”
Reysol did not have to wait long to take the lead, Taketomi pouncing to bury the rebound after Chonburi goalkeeper Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool had parried Hidekazu Otani’s shot from wide on the left.
But Chonburi replied immediately to silence the Hitachi Stadium crowd as Assumpcao latched onto a ball through the middle and dispatched a shot under Kashiwa ‘keeper Takanori Sugeno.
Masato Kudo wasted a chance to restore Reysol’s lead in front of goal shortly after, and the home side’s inability to make its dominance count almost proved costly when Assumpcao forced Sugeno into a sharp save in the 36th minute.
But a penalty awarded for a handball in the Chonburi box 12 minutes into the second half gave Kashiwa the perfect opportunity to seize the initiative, and Leandro took it as he sent the ‘keeper the wrong way from the spot.
Again the Thai side came roaring back, however, as Kroekrit picked up the ball just inside the Reysol box and curled a shot beyond the reach of Sugeno for a second equalizer.
The match moved into extra time after Reysol had failed to convert several chances, and Sugeno again had to dig the home side out of a hole as he tipped Chakrit Buathong’s deflected shot over the bar midway through the first period.
Substitute Tetsuro Ota then hit the post as Kashiwa piled on the pressure, before Leandro poked a shot agonizingly wide of the post with the game moving closer to penalties.
But Leandro would have the final word as he rose to meet Ota’s corner, leaving Chonburi too little time to stage a comeback for a third time.
“We had to battle against a lot of things,” said Chonburi manager Jadet Meelarp. “The weather was very cold, and Kashiwa Reysol are a very high-level team. But we stuck to the task and did well to take the game to extra time.
“More than tactics, we were just thinking about giving it everything we had. The players did all I asked of them. But it is now 33 degrees in Thailand, and it was very difficult to play in these conditions.”